Sitting less than an hour away from Dakar, Senegal’s capital, West Africa is Lake Retba, a coral pink lake that is nestled between white sand dunes and the Atlantic Ocean. And the sight is beautiful!
This beautiful and unique sight can be missed by tourists except they visit in the dry season which is usually in the months of November through to June when it is said to be intensely pink and less so during the rainy season in July through October.
The reason for its pink look, according to locals is that the salt content of the three-square kilometre lake can be compared to that of the Dead Sea and even exceeds during the dry season. The water turns colour in the sun due to a salt-loving micro-algae which produces a red coloured pigment.
Oral history puts it that people were fishing in the lake but by the 1970s, locals started to collect and sell salt for income following a period of economic hardships and drought.
Locals have since then been transporting, drying and trading salt from the lake, with over 70 per cent of it being exported around West Africa.
If you’re wondering how these locals collect salt from the sea without hurting themselves, you’re not alone.
Most of these workers who are youths, work seven hours a day with the most basic of tools such as a basket, spade and stick.
To protect their skin from the harsh salinity, they rub shea butter on their body before entering the water if not, the salt will damage it and cut their skin. These ones face serious work hazards because the longer they stay inside the lake, the larger the salty water makes their wounds and if they don’t cover those wounds with shea butter, they will become worse.
With a depth of only three meters, each harvester paddles to a chosen area using a long stick to push against the bottom of the lake to feel where the salt is. The boat they rent to collect the salt is called a pirogue and is made of wood. Using any engine or metal fixture would suffer immediate rust.
It is estimated that one thousand people work around this and they collect 24,000 tons of salt each year.
These harvesters are Malians, Guineans, Ivorians, Burkinabe and even some from Guinea-Bissau – all neighbouring countries.
The men who work as the harvesters, filling their baskets with salt before heaving it over their heads into their boats and can harvest between 10 to 12 buckets. There are others, basically women, who wait onshore, to carry the salt from boat to land.
There are two different types of salt harvested and packaged from Lac Rose – ‘medium salt, by people drying fish or working in the leather industry and then the big salt which is used in Senegal in food.
The three-square kilometre fuchsia lake has been a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status since 2005 and is fast becoming one of Senegal’s most popular tourist destinations on the continent.
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